Editor's Note: You might know Bun B as the Texas–based rapper, professor, and activist who's one half of the legendary Houston duo UGK. He's also VICE's newest political correspondent, reporting on the ground from the campaign trail of the strangest presidential election in recent memory.
Shit it's cold in New Hampshire. Like real cold. Like Jack Frost in a Canada Goose cold. I travel a lot so it's not like I haven't been in weather this cold before. But our ride is an older model Toyota 4Runner with no automatic start and no seat warmers. I brought no gloves for my frigid digits and my ears are damn near numb already. I feel like frostbite is setting in and I've only been outside about 90 seconds. Good fucking morning New Hampshire.
Our first stop is Salem, New Hampshire, to catch Donald Trump speak at the Derry-Salem Elks Lodge. I've never been in an Elks Lodge before. Hell, I don't even know what an elk is or means. I only know that the lodges are used for bingo and retirement parties. We get lost in the affluent neighborhood trying to find the place, and what an idyllic neighborhood it is. Beautiful homes with huge lawns covered in untouched snow. I just wanna get out and make a snow angel, something I've never done in Texas. Thoughts of spelling my name in snow in someone's front yard pop up, but I fight the urge.
All photos by Jessica Lehrman
When we pull up to the lodge, there are five Hasidic Jews, straight decked out and holding up huge signs out front. More on them later. As soon as we park, we see some folks walking back from the lodge. We ask if it's over. They say no, it's just full. I tell him we're press; he says he is too, but the place is filled to capacity. Fuck. It's too cold to stand outside, but we didn't come this far for nothing. We try our luck at the door only to find out that Secret Service has deemed it unsafe to let anyone else inside. Which is sad because I really wanted to see the modern-day New York version of Barney Rubble stand next to Fred and the boys while speaking to the Royal Order of Water Buffaloes.
We go back to find out why the Hasidic Jews are there. I ask if they are Trump supporters. They are not. In fact, Rabbi Yisrael Dovid Weiss and his crew are not here supporting any candidate. They are here to counter the notion that all Jews support Israel and its "Zionist regime." They are against the "Jewry," and want it to be clear what side they stand on. I take the rabbi's card and wish them well.
As we head back to the car, we see a black man selling Trump merchandise. I ask him how a black man got involved with the Trump campaign. He says he didn't. He's independent of the Trump team, or any team for that matter. I ask if he plans to vote for Trump; he doesn't. Now I'm really curious: How did he get permission to sell his merchandise? Simple—he didn't. He says no one really gets permission to sell merch. Most candidates don't care, because it's free promotion. And selling campaign gear is good money. He hopes Trump goes all the way, not because of his political views, but because the longer Donald is in the game, the greater the potential financial windfall from merch sales. I can't say I'm mad at him for his choice, but I wonder how he would feel if Trump won.
I'd love to talk more but it's too fucking cold out here so I'm like, let's bounce, and we head over to the next stop: Chris Christie at BeanTowne Coffee in Hampstead. They've got about 200 people in a place that should hold 50, with the older folks and kids strategically placed around the small stage that Christie will speak on. No Secret Service regulating the scene here, just a campaign rep trying to fill the stage with the right faces. All the press is bunched into a corner the size of a Mini Cooper, trying to find outlets and hoping no one spills hot java on their laptops.
At this point, I should probably mention that I'm the only black person in the room. Yeah, it's been like that in almost every room I've walked into since I stepped off the plane, with the exception of the merch guy. I've seen a female black reporter every now and then, but the number of brothers is at an all-time low up here. New Hampshire folks have been nothing but nice so far, though, and that's been comforting. I'm not sure if it's like that year round or not, but I haven't seen any funny looks or clutched purses, so I won't send the Bat signal up just yet.
Ted, the owner of BeanTowne, grabs the mic and welcomes us. He lets us know that his is the most awarded coffee shop in the state of New Hampshire, and that the shop's slogan is to "be an example of what the world should be on its very best day." Ambitious for a coffee shop, but I'm with that. We take a group shot for his Facebook page and patiently wait for the governor, who's already 30 minutes late. I've been standing in the exact same spot for an hour and my fucking toes are frozen. Apparently Nike Air Max sneaker boots aren't exactly winterized, and I'm finding that out the hard way.
The Christie campaign bus pulls right up to the front door, while supporters and detractors alike line the sidewalk. There are transit union guys from Local 820, up from New Jersey, holding signs about their state's transportation trust fund, asking Christie where his mop is—you know, classic. As the entire crowd turns toward the tour bus doors out front, the back door of the coffee shop opens up and Buddy Valastro, the famed Cake Boss, leads Christie into the room. Interesting. Valastro takes the stage first and tells the crowd that the governor is not about the "fugazi." It's actually a sincere sounding speech.
In the meantime, the union workers are booing and chanting on the sidewalk, blowing air horns and pressing their signs against the windows. I love it. Christie himself takes the stage, cracking a joke about the guys outside to break the tension before running his spiel about needing New Hampshire's vote. He knows how to work a room, and plays his every man vibe to the fullest. After his speech, he takes a few questions from the crowd and actually answers them, instead of sticking to canned responses. Not bad Chris.
We are determined to get into a Trump event, but that's way easier said than done. Most of the venues Trump is speaking at in New Hampshire this week are small and fill up quickly. We arrive at the Londonderry Lions Club a half hour early, only to find out that the room has already been at capacity for 30 minutes. So we hop in the whip and make our way up to Ted Cruz's meet-and-greet with the "Tea Party Nation/603 Alliance." I'm hoping the 603 Alliance is a dance crew composed of all the illest MCs in New Hampshire, but I fear I might be way off.
En route, we pass a house with a Bernie campaign sign in the yard; the house next door has the Confederate flag flying over it. These neighbors obviously don't borrow sugar from each other. Then I see the most random shit ever: the Mercy of God African Market. In the middle of fucking New Hampshire. Shit is getting realer by the second. I go inside and learn that the market is African owned and operated. I ask if there is some large African population in New Hampshire that I haven't seen or heard about, and I was told there was not. I think about grabbing some cassava fufu but there's no time for that. We got shit to do.
Cruz's event is taking place at the American Legion Henry J. Sweeney Post in Manchester, and it's a sight to see: walls lined with baseball trophies and cribbage plaques; pictures and memorials of fallen veterans all over, with memorabilia from various wars and conflicts; members-only pool tables. The men who come here bleed red, white, and fucking blue. I grab a seat by the eagle strike slot machines in the corner and wait for the Republican from Texas.
At the bar, I meet Howard "Cowboy" Woodbridge, a.k.a. "The Cannabis Cop," who's a co-founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP. He's wearing a ten-gallon hat, and complaining that Trump sounds a lot like Joseph McCarthy. It's really hard not to like him. After an hour and a half, the campaign introduces Cruz, explaining his tardiness by saying that the senator loves to stay late at rallies and talk to voters.
He jumps straight into his stump speech, all "up with the Constitution" and "down with the government." His speech is engaging, his prose precise, and his call for regular people in Denny's and Waffle Houses and VFW halls around America to change their country is just what this grand slam breakfast-loving crowd wants to hear. His anti-Obama comments are the strongest and most critical I've heard here so far, as is his disdain for his Republican competition. As we leave, I see a guy with a sign that says, "Ranchers Lives Matter." No comment.
By Monday night, the temperature is dropping, the snow is still falling, and I've got one last chance to catch this fool Trump in action. He's giving one last rally before New Hampshire voters go to the polls Tuesday, and I keep hearing the Trump kids are in town too, so I guess the wow factor has gone up a notch. I turn up "Maybach" by Future and enjoy the ride to the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.
Walking in, we pass protestors screaming "Trump! Making America racist again!"—which is nonsense because America never stopped being racist, but I get the sentiment. Inside, the crowd numbers in the thousands, the press corps in the dozens, and the security is by far the most stringent we've seen here so far. I stand ten feet away from Eric Jackman, who's been calling himself "New England's best Donald Trump impersonator," who's a crowd favorite here and takes his fair share of pictures with the swarms of Trump fans.
As what appears to be the soundtrack from The Big Chill or some other coming-of-middle-age movie plays over the speakers, the crowd waits in eager anticipation of the Original Don Nada. The energy in the room cannot be denied. Trump, the Medicine Man, has come to town and the people have come out in scores for a taste of his snake oil. An announcer reminds us that Mr. Trump, unlike the other candidates, is paying for all of this himself. Suddenly, I start to smell the faint odor of pomposity and arrogance. On cue, an operetta starts to play, and the Trump family is introduced. But before they hit the stage, a fucking video plays that, as far as propaganda goes, is on par with The Birth of a Nation, and not the new one.
In person, Donald's hair isn't as orange as I thought it would be, but it's as fucked up as I've always dreamed, like half of his transplanted hair is rejecting his thoughts and trying to escape. He talks about how savvy he is at business, and how he's going to build a wall to stop the drugs from flowing across the border into New Hampshire, so I guess Canada will be hearing from Donald soon.
After making a terrible marriage joke, Trump calls his wife Melania to the stage. She stands and models her lovely designer outfit, but she's wearing that fake smile on her face better than anything she has in her closet. Later, he begs his pregnant daughter Ivanka to have her baby in New Hampshire that night to guarantee him a victory. What a grandpa.
Twenty minutes into the speech, he's still said absolutely nothing, and spends most of the time simply patting himself on the back. The longer he talks, the more I realize that this is time I can never get back. Yet the people around me are entranced. They're drinking the Kool-Aid with a smile. But I'm sorry, I'll never be that damn thirsty. This guy is a fortune teller, and the worst thing to happen to the political process since Jim Crow. He is preaching blatant racism, and the crowd is eating it up.
As I walk closer to the stage, I notice a white security guard following me. I walk to a certain point and stop; he stops. I walk some more; so does he. At this point, I'm certain that because I'm basically the only black person on the actual floor, and he thinks I'm a potential protestor. I've already seen them stop three other black men from even coming on the floor, and now I'm being stalked like prey by security.
Is this the racist bullshit we should expect from the Trump regime? Yep. And I don't want any part of it. I could be smoking Kush right now. I could be FaceTiming my grandkids. Instead, I'm listening to this blowhard call another candidate a pussy and crack crass-ass jokes during one of the most pivotal times in our nation's history. This isn't politics. This isn't making America great. This is truly a circus. Except the ringmaster is the fucking clown. I put my headphones on, turn up Future's EVOL, and dab on his bitch-ass on the way out the arena doors. I'm out this bitch.
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